Opinion

Pleasure And Pain – Forced To Play Higher Difficulty Levels

Rudely ousted from his comfort zone of "Easy" difficulty, Dan battles through Ghost Recon Wildlands on "Extreme" because Ubisoft says so

One of the first articles we published was about whether or not it’s acceptable to play games on easier difficulty levels. I’m firmly in the “Yes” camp, because it’s something I’ve been doing more often as I get older. It’s a time thing, there’s never enough of it.

Developers are creating experiences they know will be enjoyed by a wide variety of people, with varied skill levels. Making games more accessible contributes to the continued growth of the industry, as more people get involved, which is clearly a good deal for us all.

Some of us have taken the opportunity to lower the difficulty in order to cruise through a narrative, or even be part of the conversation so we’re not missing out when something releases. There’s no way I could have finished Prey in 30 hours the first time, if not for the lowest difficulty level. Some of us just aren’t that good, particularly not straight away.

When you’re forced to increase the difficulty before you feel ready

This post is about Ghost Recon: Wildlands.

A feature called Tier One is now available, once you reach the maximum level of 30 for your character. I achieved this back in March, when I finished the story missions, on easy of course! My excuse this time was that I was about to get married, I really wanted to know how the story ended, so I blasted through it GTA style.

When you enable Tier One mode, you start at Tier 50, then earn Tier XP to level down, gradually working your way toward Tier 1. Something I didn’t realise was part of this, the game difficulty is dictated by your tier level – as you level down, the game warns you it needs to change the difficulty for you to continue, if it needs to.

You can disable the Tier One system any time you want, but you’ll no longer gain any XP or receive the various cosmetic rewards each time you level down. In other words, if you want to enjoy the spoils of the tiering system and reach Tier One, you have no choice but to increase the difficulty level of the game.

I believed with 50 levels available, the forced change in difficulty would be spread out quite generously. I was incorrect.

In just 15 levels, in the space of a week, I’ve gone from (still) running around GTA style, blasting everything that moves in Arcade mode, to stalking cartel members for several minutes, in the safety of treelines, surveying many square kilometers with a drone. Have I really seen all the enemies? How can I be sure? In the lower difficulties it’s obvious, there’s a cloud of orange where undetected enemies are on the mini-map.

In Expert mode, there’s nothing but your wits and observation. One wrong move and you’re toast, you’re incredibly squishy compared to the first two difficulty levels, making it a very different game. If you want to be a complete sadist, you can remove all HUD elements too!

What I’ve begun to realise, however, is what I always suspected – this is how Ghost Recon Wildlands was intended to be played. The lower difficulties cater to the GTA style players out there, where run and gun is the done thing.

Yes, “Expert” it’s definitely more difficult, it’s meant to be, but does that make it any less enjoyable, or more time consuming? As it turns out, for this particular game, no it doesn’t make it less enjoyable. It can be a little more time consuming, even the simplest things become a real challenge. You have to completely adjust your approach to everything, employ different tactics, or even develop some to begin with. Would a real “Ghost” walk casually down a main road in a hostile country, armed to the teeth? Probably not, so into the jungle you go, better stay there too.

There’s a huge payoff when something goes well, along with frustration when the smallest mistake or stroke of bad luck leads to your untimely demise. As I’m failing, I’m learning too, squeaking my way toward Tier One, with 34 levels on Expert difficulty ahead of me to hone my skills. Maybe then I can call this game “finished” at last.

I think I’ll head out of my comfort zone of Easy a little more often from now on, or a little sooner than usual, out of choice. If you’re a wimp, like me, I challenge you to do the same.

Do you know of any other games that do this? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear about them!

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